The 2019-20 FHSAA boys soccer playoffs continue Saturday across the Jacksonville area with the regional semifinals.
Nease (10-6-3) at Orlando Boone (13-3-2): By now, everybody in the state likely knows it's dangerous to concede a free kick anywhere near the net when Savio Palushi is around. The senior playmaker did the job again to beat Mandarin with a cannon shot to the top corner, and Orlando Boone is the next challenge. For Boone, Zedy Adlam, Samuel Manzano and Sebastian Salazar each scored twice Wednesday in a 6-1 demolition of Spruce Creek. To guard against that, Nease's center back pairing of Jack Dearie and Adin Muminovic must come through once more, along with reliable goalkeeper Aidan Parke. A Wednesday night trip to Sanford Seminole or Winter Park awaits the winner.
Creekside (11-4-3) at Tallahassee Leon (17-4-3): This is becoming a sensational run for the Knights, who appeared to be playoff outsiders as recently as a week and a half ago. But they've beaten Fletcher and Fleming Island (twice) in order, and now they're here, with a shot at the third round for the first time ever. Jacob McLeod, among the region's leading scorers, is naturally the target for the Knights' offensive forays, while Aldin Tahirovic and Colby McCrone have also shown a knack for coming up with the clutch goal. They'll face off against the front pairing of Nick Ramsden and Henry Regalado, Lions strikers who have combined for 50 goals thus far.
Fletcher (14-3) at Niceville (21-0-2): They've survived a finish as chaotic as any in Northeast Florida all year -- a rally from two goals down in the closing minutes, an 88th-minute equalizer to force overtime, a go-ahead goal in OT and then a dramatic penalty save in the extra session on Wednesday at Edgewater. Now, the Senators confront what might be their toughest challenge. Niceville has outscored opponents 84-13 this year, and they're ranked fifth in the country by MaxPreps. While Liam Etan (22 goals) and Logan Harrelson (19 goals) are the most conspicuous threats, Niceville can finish from anywhere on the field. But if Fletcher can consistently get the ball to the inventive Brian Schaefer in attack, the Senators have a shot at the upset.
Stanton (17-4-1) at Ponte Vedra (11-3-1): A rematch from last year's regionals, a tense contest that wasn't settled until a penalty shootout tipped the balance in favor of Ponte Vedra. Two of the players who scored for the Sharks in that tiebreaker, David Morales and Nico Gosendi, return to pace the offense once more. But the Blue Devils have been finding new ways to hit the net down the stretch, including vital goals from fullbacks Ryan Dreibelbis and Chris Russell to knock out Gulf Breeze. The winner plays Wednesday against Gainesville or Fort Walton Beach.
Suwannee (12-3-6) at Bishop Kenny (18-5-2): This is uncharted territory for the Bulldogs, who hadn't even won a playoff game before shutting out Wakulla 2-0 on Wednesday night. But C.J. Joyner, now up to 11 goals, heads an attack that Bishop Kenny must take seriously. The Crusaders came out on top of a wild, back-and-forth clash against Menendez, with two goals from Martin Pineiros helping to make the difference. Bishop Kenny last advanced beyond the second round in 2017, when they progressed to the final four. The winner gets Panama City Beach Arnold or Pensacola West Florida in Wednesday's regional final.
Florida High (9-9-3) at Bolles (13-6-1): Bolles returns to Skinner-Barco Stadium on the heels of a 9-1 rout of P.K. Yonge, a game that showcased the midfield skills of senior Alonso Munoz (two goals, two assists). Seven Bulldogs in total found the net. They're shooting for a third consecutive regional final visit. To get there, Bolles must overcome a Florida High team that's recovering from a strength-sapping 100-minute first-round match against Keystone Heights, a contest not decided until a penalty kick shootout. Should the Bulldogs advance, they'll play at home Wednesday against Pensacola Catholic or Crescent City.
Mayo Lafayette (19-1-3) at St. Johns Country Day (16-1): One year after qualifying for the regional title game, the near-perfect Spartans have a shot at a return trip. The numbers are impressive: St. Johns has racked up 13 consecutive victories, outscoring its opponents by a 61-3 count in that span. Keeper Ryan Croft is up to 11 shutouts on the season. To move on, St. Johns must mark Lafayette's Emmanuel Tovar, scorer of a hat trick last week, more tightly than St. Joseph did. The winner plays Wednesday against Lake Mary Prep or Tallahassee Maclay.